For those unfamiliar with Irish politics, the main governing party is Fianna Fáil - The Republican Party, but don't ask me what it believes in or stands for. Or them for that matter. Despite this Fianna Fáil is one of the most successful parties in the democratic world, having topped the poll in every single Irish general election since 1927.
This once mighty successful party is now polling at 8%. (Irish Independent: Cowen bails out as FF hit 8pc low) The forthcoming general election could be one of those super crashes that permanently alters the landscape of a country's politics not just for the parliament ahead but for decades to come.
Until today Fianna Fáil had a coalition partner, the Green Party. It's the first time the Greens have been in government and they've not had the best of times, with the party suffering internal divides, miserable poll ratings and atrocious local election results. More than a few British Liberal Democrats will be looking at the Irish Greens and wondering if they will suffer the same fate.
In the run up to the election Ireland has, however, shown a few things that may in the UK will want to take on board:
- It is possible for a failing government to get rid of the prime minister even when the election is very close. UK Labour please take note.
- Governments can collapse before the full life of a parliament, so fixed term parliaments aren't such a great idea.
- Parties of purist idealists like the Greens aren't always cut out for the necessary prioritising and compromising of government.
This is because Fianna Fáil is a party without an overall ideology, which swings in the wind between the left, centre and right, which jumps onto whatever vote-winning bandwagon is going, which is full of "local campaigner" elected representatives and which when in government usually lets it coalition partners set the overall direction. Sound familiar?
And of course Fianna Fáil is affiliated to the European Liberal Democrats and in the European Parliament it sits in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe grouping.
Naturally many Liberal Democrats will be rushing to distance themselves from the comparisons, or inventing reasons why a member of the European liberal family doesn't qualify as a member of the European liberal family. But the key points of comparison are there regardless.
With insights such as these it is little wonder that UCUNF did so well in the North in the last Westminster election.
And the most important lesson is that a major long established party can suffer heavy losses in a continuing economic crisis.
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